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Sex abuse lawsuit against Prince Andrew will continue, judge rules

Britain's Prince Andrew has been trying to block a lawsuit by Virginia Giuffre, who says he sexually abused her when she was a minor. Andrew is seen here last April.
Steve Parsons
Britain's Prince Andrew has been trying to block a lawsuit by Virginia Giuffre, who says he sexually abused her when she was a minor. Andrew is seen here last April.

Updated January 12, 2022 at 10:46 AM ET

Virginia Giuffre's lawsuit against Britain's Prince Andrew can continue, a federal judge has ruled, denying "in all respects" the Duke of York's request to dismiss the case.

Giuffre says the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein arranged for Andrew to sexually abuse her when she was a minor. Andrew has repeatedly denied the allegations, stating that he did not participate in the sexual exploitation of minors or witness such behavior.

At a hearing on Jan. 4, the British prince's lawyers argued that a $500,000 settlement that Epstein and Giuffre reached in 2009 should prevent her from suing him. But District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan said the settlement, made public earlier this month, is too vague to specifically protect Andrew from a lawsuit.

The complex case touches on a number of civil and criminal codes, from contract law in Florida, where the settlement was created, to abuse laws in New York, where Giuffre says the abuse occurred.

At issue: Who is a 'potential defendant'?

Giuffre's deal with Epstein bars her from pursuing litigation against Epstein and anyone who could be a "potential defendant." In the court hearing, the prince's lawyer, Andrew B. Brettler, seized on that phrase to say that the settlement protects Andrew. But the judge disagreed, saying the term is so expansive as to have almost no meaning.

"What is a 'potential defendant' as distinguished from a 'defendant'?" Kaplan asked, according to Adam Klasfeld of the Law & Crime website.

"The defendant insists that he was among the 'Other Potential Defendants' and therefore was released" from any claims by Giuffre, Kaplan wrote in his 44-page ruling. "Ms. Giuffre maintains with equal adamancy that he was not among the 'Other Potential Defendants' that the parties to the 2009 Agreement had in mind."

The judge said the 2009 settlement is "far from a model of clear and precise drafting." But he added that any ambiguity in the document "must be resolved by the trier of fact, ordinarily a trial jury" — not by a judge ruling on a motion to dismiss a complaint.

Here's the full text of Kaplan's ruling:

The prince said Giuffre's lawsuit lacked sufficient detail

Kaplan issued his ruling two weeks after Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein's longtime partner, was found guilty of sex trafficking a minor and other crimes. Giuffre and numerous other accusers say the pair lured underage girls into their orbit with the promise of money and prestige, only to sexually exploit them. In her lawsuit, Giuffre says she "was lent out by Epstein to other powerful men for sexual purposes," including to Andrew.

Giuffre filed suit against the prince in August 2021, accusing him of rape and sexual assault of a minor, as well as inflicting psychological and emotional harm. She's seeking unspecified compensation and punitive damages. The suit calls for a jury trial.

Urging the judge to dismiss the case, Brettler said the lawsuit doesn't include key details, such as specific dates and "what purported sexual contact occurred." Kaplan said Giuffre has provided enough information to proceed.

"The judge read aloud a portion of the lawsuit in which Giuffre alleged 'involuntary sexual intercourse,' " adding that the account left no doubt about what she says transpired, The Associated Press reported.

In his ruling, Kaplan reiterated that Giuffre's complaint is neither vague nor ambiguous. He also said the prince can't have it both ways.

Andrew's "assertion that he cannot reasonably prepare a response to plaintiff's allegations plainly contradicts the content of his moving papers, in which he denies Ms. Giuffre's allegations in no uncertain terms," the judge wrote.

The lawsuit describes multiple instances of abuse when Giuffre was under 18

In Giuffre's telling, Andrew met Epstein through Maxwell in 1999 and often traveled with the pair on Epstein's jet. She says the alleged abuse occurred some time between 2000 and 2002, when Giuffre was part of Epstein's inner circle and Andrew was around 40 years old.

Giuffre says Andrew sexually abused her in three different places when she was a minor: at Maxwell's home in London; at Epstein's mansion in New York; and at Little St. James, Epstein's private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Her lawsuit includes the now-famous photo of the prince with his arm around Giuffre's waist — an image she says was taken shortly before he abused her.

"During this encounter, Epstein, Maxwell, and Prince Andrew forced Plaintiff, a child, to have sexual intercourse with Prince Andrew against her will," the lawsuit states.

Referring to another portion of the lawsuit, the judge wrote that Giuffre's allegation that she "was forced to sit on defendant's lap while he touched her is sufficient to state a battery claim under New York law, regardless of which part(s) of her body defendant ultimately is alleged to have touched."

"To state such a claim, plaintiff need allege only that there was 'bodily contact, that the contact was offensive and that the defendant intended to make the contact without the plaintiff's consent,' " Kaplan wrote, citing a previous case.

That contact would be seen as offensive if it is "wrongful under all the circumstances," the judge added, "which certainly is a reasonable inference from Ms. Giuffre's allegations."

The 2009 settlement is now part of two separate court cases — one that pits Giuffre against Andrew and another in which she and attorney Alan Dershowitz have leveled defamation charges at each other. Giuffre has said Epstein arranged for her to have sex with Dershowitz when she was a minor. At the time, her last name was Roberts.

Epstein died in 2019 at age 66; his death was ruled a suicide.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.